It’s been hot as hell in Australia over the past weekend. While beachgoers and air-con salesmen are rejoicing, the fierce summer heat has been catastrophic on the country's population of grey-headed flying foxes.
Over 700 of these giant bats have perished in parts of South Australia and New South Wales, according to Wildlife Aid Inc. One of the worst affected areas is Singleton in New South Wales, where temperatures reached a dizzying 47°C (116°F) over the weekend. The exact number of deaths isn't yet known, but the figure is expected to rise.
These die-offs have left wildlife officials with the grisly job of clearing up the hundreds of bodies, some of which are still eerily hanging upside-down from trees (videos below).
Part of the problem is that these flying foxes have been displaced from their normal habitat. Over the past few decades, there have been increasingly more sightings in suburban and built-up areas, where there’s less natural shade. An example of this came last year when the sleepy town of Batemans Bay in New South Wales was overrun with hundreds of thousands of these chaos-causing bats.
"To a certain degree it is a natural event, however they're not in a natural environment due to human disturbance," Jaala Preslan, a Wildlife Aid Inc bat coordinator, told Australia 9News. "In a normal camp you'd have canopies and they'd be able to get down low."
Grey-headed flying foxes (Pteropus poliocephalus) are a species of megabat with a wingspan of around 1 meter (3.3 feet). Although native to the east coast of Australia, they’re gradually shifting westwards. The creatures play a crucial role in the pollination and dispersal of seeds for many flowering plants and trees. However, since the animal is considered vulnerable, the situation is concerning for conservationists and environmentalists alike.
They also carry many deadly human diseases, including the Hendra virus and the rabies-like Australian bat lyssavirus, so people are being asked not to touch them unless they know what they are doing.
Fortunately for the bats, conservationists, and thousands of sweaty Australians, the blistering temperatures are expected to ease up this week.